worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

Top 10 religious monuments.

I’m not a religious man, but oh my gosh do those religious folks make some damn fine monuments. And not only are these often spectacular monuments to a higher being a must-see part of many an itinerary, I have even gone totally out of my way to visit them – from Bagan in Burma to Borobudur in Indonesia. Here are my 10 favourite tributes to the Gods – divided up by religion:

CATHOLIC
Basilica de Sagrada Familia
Barcelona, Spain

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

There are bigger and grander Catholic churches (although when it’s finished it will be the world’s tallest), but you can’t beat a church that has melting-ice-cream-cone spires and towers. It’s still ‘work in progress’, but this gloriously quirky church (which was begun in 1882 and slated to be completed in 2026) looks like a wonderful mix of a gigantic stone termites’ nests and a gingerbread house. Designed by Barcelona’s most famous Modernista artist, Antoni Gaudí,  this hugely ambitious church has confounded architects, critics and historians since it first popped up on the Barcelona skyline. George Orwell said it was ‘one of the most hideous buildings in the world’, but I love the sheer wackiness of it. The above shot was taken when I last visited in 1995, and even since then it has changed dramatically. I can’t wait to see the completed masterpiece.

Missed by a prayer…
St Peters and the Vatican, 
Rome, Italy
It’s big. It’s impressive. And this holiest of holiest Catholic sites is chock full of the who’s who of Renaissance artists, including Raphael, Brunelleschi, Bernini, and Michelangelo. Oh, and it has a lovely view from the top of Michelangelo’s Dome.

ISLAM
The Blue Mosque
Istanbul, Turkey

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

The Blue Mosque’s official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but it is known as the Blue Mosque because it has quite a lot of blue tiles – 20,000 in fact. The walls are covered in them and there are all sorts of tiles depicting everything from cypress trees to fruit to pretty tulips. It was those abundant blue tiles and stunning interior that impressed me – and I love how they place ostrich eggs on the chandeliers in the belief that they repel spiders, and so help to minimise cobwebs.

Missed by a prayer…
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, Brunei
The Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque is considered one of the most beautiful mosques in the Asia Pacific, but when I went there I seemed to be the only person around. Maybe everyone was at the pub. Wait a sec, that couldn’t be the case because the entire country is alcohol free.

BUDDISM
Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon, Myanmar

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

One of the greatest joys of travelling for me is when I am wowed. And now and again, like that very moment when I stepped out into this mesmerising sight, I was totally and utterly wowed. The main pagoda, which was positively beaming in the morning light as it soaked up and reflected the intense glare of the sun like an enormous mirror, was certainly the most impressive Buddhist pagoda I’d ever seen (and boy I’ve seen a few). And it wasn’t just the main pagoda that was extraordinary: the whole compound was full of intricate pagodas with glittering architecture, magnificent gold Buddha images, statues, shrines, bells, deities, temples and palm trees. There were over 82 structures and each building and pagoda was as unique and spectacular as the next one. I dubbed it the Buddhist Disneyland.

Missed by a prayer…
Pha That Luang Pha That Luang, Vientiane, Laos AND Borobudur Temple, Java, Indonesia
I couldn’t decide between Borobudur temple in Indonesia and Pha That Luang (Great Stupa in Lao) in Laos. Borobudur was certainly majestic (particularly enveloped in an eery morning mist), but I also loved the sheer lavishness of gold on the Grand Stupa – and the orange clad monks.

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

ANGLICAN (Church of England)
St Pauls
London, UK

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

Prince Charles and Lady Diana hitched the knot here. That was good enough reason to make it to No.1 on my list (I always fancied Di). Mind you, it is stunning inside with it’s heavily decorated golden ceiling and Sir Christopher Wren’s grand Neoclassical dome which dominates the London skyline (it’s so impressive that the dome served as a model for the U.S. Capitol). I worked for a while not far from St Pauls and would sometimes sit and have my lunch staring up at that impressive dome.

Missed by a prayer…
Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, UK
Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Chief Primate of the Church of England (no giggling about chief primate). The Cathedral also does have the most impressive collection of stained-glass windows I’ve ever seen.

LUTHERAN
Hallgrímskirkja
Reykjavík, Iceland

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

Hallgrímskirkja is one cool looking church – or rocket ship. Designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in Scandinavian Modernism style it’s also happens to be the tallest building in Reykjavík – which allows for a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the city’s colourful rooftops. It was voted in a Danish paper as the ‘strangest church’ in the world, but that’s what makes is so wonderfully strange and beautiful.

Missed by a prayer…
Grundtvig’s Church, Copenhagen, Denmark

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

Very similar to Hallgrímskirkja in Iceland this other fantastically wacky church looks like a giant church organ.

TAOISM
Temple of Heaven,
Beijing, China

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

The Temple of Heaven was completed in 1420 during the Ming dynasty and was the site of sacrifices to promote a successful harvest. When I visited there were no sacrifices going on (sadly), but there was the sound of thousands of cameras going off immediately after shouts of, what I only could imagine was, Chinese for ‘say cheese!’. I waited almost an hour to get a photo without someone in it taking a photo of the temple.

HINDU
Sri Muthumariamman Temple
Matale, Sri Lanka

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

This is the biggest (and brightest) Hindu temple in Sri Lanka. I could have spent hours checking out the hundreds of exuberantly decorated sculptures of divine beings called Gopurams. It’s certainly the most ornate, colourful and cheerful-looking temple that I have ever visited.

Missed by a prayer…
Lotis Temple, 
New Delhi, India
Baha’i Temple uses three layers of nine ‘petals’ each to represent the world’s nine major religions and to accentuate the faith’s principles of peace, purity, and unity of all religions. But best of all, it looks like a big pretty white lotus flower.

SHINTO
Sensoji-Temple
Tokyo, Japan
worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

I went to Sensoji-Temple for a bean throwing festival. On February 3rd every year the Japanese throw beans at each other – as in rock-hard roasted beans. For centuries Japanese folk have been throwing beans around their home (and each other) to scare of demons. The biggest pelting, however, takes place at Sensoji-Temple where priests (followed by Japanese celebrities) throw handfuls of beans onto crowds of people. With a backdrop of this impressive temple I joined the throng and happily got showered with beans. But the most exciting thing of all was during one of the celebrity throws I saw someone that I recognised (and loved as a kid). It was Pigsy from the cult TV show Monkey!

Missed by a prayer…
Saidaijikannon-in Temple, Okayama, Japan
You thought bean throwing was a little strange. I went to the Saidaijikannon-in Temple in Okayama to take part in the Naked Man Festival. Thankfully I wasn’t naked – we all wore nappies instead (or Fundoshis to be accurate). The temple was largely impressive because a grandstand had been built around it and I joined around 1000 other men in nappies at the front of the temple trying to catch a scared stick thrown by one of the priests at midnight.

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX
St Basils
Moscow, Russia

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments
I know this church well from my time working there as a Russian military guard. This was actually a very quick pose because I didn’t want to get caught by the real military, but I did return dressed more appropriately to marvel and all the yummy ice creams swirls on top of the spires.

Missed by a prayer…
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

This church looks yummy enough to eat. I’m pretty sure it was designed by the same lady who created the Gingerbread House in Hansel and Gretel.

GREEK ORTHODOX
Any church
Santorini, Greece

worlds-greatest-religious-monuments

Eeny meeny miny moe (or whatever that is in Greek). You can just about pick any church in Thira on Santorini, because with that incredible backdrop of the Med and the black volcanic cliffs EVERY church is stunning. And most of them look as if they had been re-painted the day before. I saw my first amazing church and took about ten photos. Then I took ten photos of the next one. And the next. I must have taken photos of at least 20 churches. And that was before lunch on my first day.

 

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